It’s going to be okay, millennials. I know. I get it. The price of houses in this city continues to sky rocket, putting your dream of owning a home ever further out of reach as your biological clock marches ceaselessly on. It’s getting to the point where you might actually need to have your kids in apartments. Gosh, you might not even have a proper nursery.
The federal government of Canada has been all over the news this week because they are going to make it a little tougher to qualify for a mortgage. Basically, they want to make sure people can afford to carry their mortgage plus a little more in case interest rates go up. The government is scared to death that our housing bubble is going to burst and our entire economy will go belly up and countless people will lose their homes. So, okay, fair enough then. Let’s try to prevent that.
A recent CBC article on the new mortgage guidelines quotes millennial financial planner Shannon Lee Simmons as saying, “We are all going to be raising babies in apartments. That’s what it’s going to come down to.” That grim, eh? To be fair, Simmons goes on to say, “An infant doesn’t care if they are in an apartment. We care if they are in an apartment. But an infant doesn’t care.”
It’s true. An infant doesn’t care and neither does a child — unless they are told that there’s something wrong with living in an apartment. So let me reassure you. There’s nothing wrong with raising kids in apartments.
I lived with my own parents and three siblings in a two-bedroom bungalow in Toronto, a roomy four-bedroom house in Halifax, a three-bedroom railroad-style apartment in the Bronx, and a large three-story detached home back in Toronto. I myself have lived with babies (and then children) in a large one-bedroom loft sublet, a one and a half-bedroom converted store-front apartment, a big two-bedroom apartment, and finally a three-bedroom semi-detached house that we own. I walk the walk when it comes to living different places with kids.
Here’s why it’s going to be okay:
- Remember that a small house is just like an apartment except more yard work. We have significantly less storage in our house than we had in our last apartment.
- Yards are over rated. Did I mention the yard work? When you have little kids parks are where it’s at anyway. They get you out of the house and talking to people in your neighbourhood. They foster a sense of community. They have playgrounds! Duh.
- The thrill of ownership will eventually wear off and then you realize that the bank actually owns your house and won’t do a thing about the upstairs bathroom. It sucks when your furnace stops working in the middle of a snow storm. It sucks even more when you have to find the money to replace it.
- People have been raising families in apartments forever. So while there’s nothing wrong with your idyllic dreams of, er, backyards, basements, and no more elevator small talk, those are not prerequisites to a happy and fulfilling life. In a city like New York almost everybody, rich or poor, lives in apartments. In a city like Toronto where 41% of all households lived in a high-rise apartment in 2011, it’s still pretty freaking common.
- One-level living is the best when you have a toddler. I honestly didn’t even own a baby gate until the third baby came along in a house with stairs. And getting up at night to feed the baby is much easier when the crib is crammed into the corner between your dresser and the wall.
There is one downfall to renting with kids in this market, though. It’s the main reason we made finding (quite truly) the last affordable house in Toronto our priority six years ago. That downfall is housing security. I’ve known many young families in Vancouver and Toronto who have been evicted from their home so the owners can either renovate (and then jack up the rent) or sell. It’s a hassle at the best of times, but when you have kids settled into a good school with close friends and neighbourhood activities, it becomes a nightmare. Add to that ever-rising rents and families often have to either pay through the nose to stay in their area or uproot everyone.
So, yes, it’s fine to have a family in an apartment. It’s great! But I would avoid apartments in converted houses where the risk of eviction is the highest. Apartment buildings are a solid bet. Buying a condo (the biggest you can afford) is another option. And working out some sort of co-ownership of a multi-unit house is yet another route I bet we see more and more people taking.
I just hope we can achieve some sort of soft landing to this real estate madness or saving for a house will be the least of anyone’s concerns.